CLEVELAND, Ohio – A recent study out of England further discounts concerns that taking medication for high blood pressure can worsen the effects of COVID-19, and even suggests that infected patients already taking the medication might be less likely to die.
New research conducted by the University of East Anglia provides “reassuring evidence” that certain hypertension drugs are not harmful to coronavirus patients, said Dr. Keith Armitage, medical director of University Hospital’s Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine and Global Health.
Contacted about the study by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Armitage and Dr. David Margolius, interim director of general internal medicine at MetroHealth, also said the association researchers found with improved outcomes needs more study before concluding the medications can be beneficial.
The East Anglia researchers analyzed nearly 29,000 patients included in 19 studies that had mostly been conducted in China.
The research found no evidence that taking the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEi) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) increased the risk of death or made things worse for COVID-19 patients. Researchers also found that those taking the medications for high blood pressure were .67 times less likely to suffer “a fatal/critical outcome” than those who were not, according to a written announcement of the research by East Anglia.
“Our research provides substantial evidence to recommend continued use of these medications if the patients were taking them already,” stated lead researcher Dr. Vassilios Vassilou in written statement. “However, we are not able to address whether starting such tablets acutely in patients with COVID-19 might improve their prognosis.”
Speculation arose earlier this year that certain hypertension drugs could create problems for COVID-19 patients because the medications acted on the same cell receptors as the coronavirus.
“Early on in the ancient, old days of COVID, which is March, there was sort of a theoretical idea that maybe these drugs would make it worse for patients,” Armitage said.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine even supported the claim, but it was retracted in June after it was found that the research was flawed, said Margolius.
Several groups including the American Heart Association have been skeptical from the beginning, Margolius said.
“This study lends further support that the most important thing you can do for your chronic illnesses during this time is to continue your current medicines,” he said.
While the study shows an association with better outcomes, more research, such as through randomized clinical trials, would be necessary to make a more substantial claim, Armitage and Margolius said.
“This type of study would not have been done if not for the original controversy in May and June, I don’t think,” Margolius said. “And possibly won’t be done after this. But we’ll see.”
The blood pressure drugs in question are commonly used, Margolius said, and known to reduce the rate of death for those with heart failure and the progression to kidney disease for those with diabetes.
Other classifications of blood pressure medication include diuretics, beta blockers and calcium-channel blockers, Margolius said, but concerns had not been raised about those.